As a Big Sur family photographer, I’ve kinda seen it all. I’ve photographed big families, small families, and kids of all ages. And something that always comes up in client calls is, “How do I get my kids to behave?”

And my answer is always the same, “Let them play, explore, and get a little dirty.”

So, if you’re planning a family photo session, these five tips should help you make the most of your day.

big sur family photographer - portrait of family at sunset on beach in big sur, ca

Preparing Your Kids for Family Photos

Meet the Carson family, a gorgeous family from the San Jose area. As the mom, Kali, and I began planning their session, it was pretty clear that they had some energetic kiddos. 

With a little prep work, the kids arrived knowing what to expect, and the whole gang had a great time. The kids got to play, everyone got a little messy, and we captured authentic photos of everyone. Stress-free! 

series of photos of little kids at their big sur family photo session

5 Tips for Stress-free Family Photos

  1. Be Flexible

Kids are naturally curious and unpredictable, so it’s important to be flexible and open to new ideas to capture the best moments. 

For this session, the baby was obsessed with the yellow truck he brought along. He probably would’ve been pretty upset if we didn’t let him have it for any photos. So we compromised. We let him have it for some photos and then hid it from him for the others. 

Even though the photos with the truck probably aren’t the family’s favorites right now, they’ll look back and find it funny one day.

family photo of family of five in big sur

2. Be Playful & Engaging

When you let loose and play with your kids, that’s when the magic really happens. Not only does it make the whole experience more fun for them, but it also helps me capture those natural and authentic moments that can’t be posed or planned. 

Dad was so great at playing and engaging during this session. He’d grab one of the kids, start playing with them and ask them questions. It would get their attention off of me and the camera and into being present with his family.

photo of dad playing in water on beach in big sur for family photo session
  • I always suggest asking kids lots of questions about their surroundings. It gets their attention and with a little humor, can stir up giggles.
  • “Did you see that bird up there?”
  • “Do you think there are whales in the water right there?”
  • “What color is this flower?”
  • Other ways to engage and be playful with kids:
  • Tickle fights are always on brand!
  • Sing a favorite song
  • Pretend the child is invisible

You get the idea. As parents, you’ll know what will make your kiddos laugh and have a good time. Play together, ask questions, and I’ll guide you through the rest.

photos of dad and youngest child playing in bug sur, ca at family photo shoot
family photo of 5 - family walking holding hands on beach in big sur, ca
photo of mom playing in water on beach in big sur for family photo session

3. Let the Kids Explore for Action Photos

Kids are natural explorers; watching them discover new things is one of the best parts of being a parent. So why not let them explore during the photo session too? Some of the best photos are the ones that were never on the “to shoot” list.

photos of little girl playing with her dad in sand for big sur family photographer shoot
  • Some of my favorite prompts for family action photos are:
  • Have a parent toss kids in the air 
  • Bouncing kids on a knee and “pretending” to drop them.
  • Spinning
  • Dancing
  • Holding hands
  • Jumping
  • Chasing/Playing Tag
  • Hugging
  • Tickling
  • Telling “secrets” in their ears
series of photos of family playing on beach - big sur family photographer

4. Love on Your Family

I love an unscripted photo session, and that’s no different for families. I think the best moments are the unexpected ones, the silly ones, the ones where real life happens. So my advice is always just to show up and love on your family. I’ll document it all!

photos of mom and oldest child on beach in bug sur, ca at family photo shoot
mom and daughter cuddling at big sur family photographer shoot
photos of mom and child on beach at big sur, ca family photoshoot
photo of mom and dad embracing on beach for big sur family photos

For family sessions, I often bring along a blanket. They work great for snuggled-up photos or fun photos of playing parachute. (Parachute was always THE BEST DAY in gym class at school, right?)

photo of family playing with blanket on beaches of big sur, ca for family photoshoot

5. Plan to Get Dirty

You’ll likely get dirty or wet (or both) at beach photo sessions. As the session gets closer to the end, we typically walk near the water, and that’s when you can expect to get a little messy. It’s so much fun, and the kids always love it! Bring some extra clothes to change into before heading home, and you’ll be good to go.

  • While you probably don’t need prompts to get dirty, these are some of my favorites at the beach:
  • Pour sand into each other’s hands
  • Throw rocks into the water
  • Write and draw on the sand
  • Run toward and away from the waves
photo of family playing on the beach in big sur, ca
big sur family photographer - family of five on beach

With all of these tips, your kids won’t complain about family photos the next time you’re ready for a session. They’ll remember how much fun they had and be EXCITED!

What to Wear for Your Family Photos: Tips from a Big Sur Family Photographer

Kali was great to work with for styling her family session. She took my advice on wardrobe ideas, followed up when she had questions, and I think she even purchased a few items from Zara I suggested.

I love when families trust me like Kali did. She trusted me with everything, and everyone relaxed into the photo experience. And the photos turned out so great because of that. What more could we ask for? 

photos of dad and youngest child playing in bug sur, ca at family photo shoot

Ready to Book Your Big Sur Family Photo Session?

Now that you have my five tips for a stress-free family photo session, it’s time to book your family photo session and put them into action!

Whether you’re a local or planning a trip to the area, I’d love to be your Big Sur family photographer.

Send me a note here to get started!

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